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Blonde Phantom


Perhaps more than any other company of the 1940s or 1950s, Marvel Comics' ethos was always to jump on any trend going and to swamp the newsstands with as much product as it could muster. The Blonde Phantom was both a response to what was happening in several areas of the marketplace and a trendsetter herself. Her first appearance came in the eleventh issue of All-Select Comics (Fall 1946), previously a bastion of Marvel's big three superheroes, the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, and Captain America. She made her presence felt by entirely ousting the old heroes from the cover.

The Blonde Phantom was the brainchild of the prolific Otto Binder and was drawn by one of Marvel's top artists of the time, Syd Shores. Her strips were simplicity themselves. In civilian life, she was Louise Grant, mousy secretary to the dashing private investigator Mark Mason. Picking up tips from the cases on his desk, she donned a slinky red evening gown (open at the navel and back), let down her blond tresses, swapped her horn-rimmed spectacles for a black mask, and slipped on the highest of high-heeled slippers. Then, armed with her wits, determination, and a .45 (she had no superpowers to speak of), she sashayed off to right wrongs on America's mean streets.

The Blonde Phantom strips were an amalgam of all sorts of trends that were influencing the post–World War II market. The success of Archie had shown that girls were beginning to read comics in some numbers, and Marvel had exploited that with a flood of teen titles, such as Millie the Model, Patsy Walker, Tessie the Typist, Margie, and many others. The company had always had success with its superhero books, and so they might have imagined that a superhero for girls should be a hit. Indeed, Marvel had met with some success with earlier girl heroes, such as Miss America and Miss Fury. Another of the era's big hits was the crime genre, first established by Lev Gleason's million-selling Crime Does Not Pay title. So, perhaps inevitably, the Blonde Phantom's adventures were full of vicious gangsters and crazed psychopaths. Stories such as The Devil's Playground, Modelled for Murder, Horror in Hollywood, and The Man Who Deserved to Die indicate the sort of hard-boiled fare served up in her yarns.

In true superhero fashion, Binder had a lot of fun with the Phantom's secret identity since, much in the manner of Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor, Louise Grant loved Mason, but he only had eyes for the sultry, dashing Blonde Phantom. In a reverse of the usual damsel-in-distress shtick so prevalent in the Golden Age of comics (1938–1954), it was usually the trouble-prone Mason who needed rescuing, only increasing his ardour for his beautiful rescuer. Interestingly, a little less than a year later, DC Comics came out with the Black Canary, a similarly blonde adventuress with a detective paramour in perpetual need of rescuing, though the Canary would prove to be far longer-lived than the Phantom.

After one issue in All Select and a plug in Millie the Model #2 (wherein Millie dresses up in a Blonde Phantom costume and promotes Blonde Phantom perfume), the Blonde Phantom was given her own quarterly title (adopting its initial numbering from the All-Select series at #12). Within a year, she was starring in each issue of Marvel Mystery Comics as well and by mid-1948 had also gained regular backup slots in Sub-Mariner and Blackstone. By August of that year, her success inspired Marvel to launch an entire line of girls' superheroes and the first issues of Sun Girl, Venus, and Namora were released. Coupled with Blonde Phantom's various strips and Golden Girl's emergence in the pages of Captain America, that gave Marvel five superheroines. Inevitably, the various heroines crossed over with each other, and the Blonde Phantom guest-starred in Sun Girl, but perhaps the whole experiment was overdone and, within a year, not only the heroines but also Marvel's entire superhero line was out of print.

In her two-and-a-half-year existence, the Blonde Phantom appeared in more than thirty stories spread across eight titles, but in May 1949 her own title was transformed into Lovers with its twenty-third issue, reflecting the next trend that would dominate the newsstands for much of the coming decade: romance comics. Whereas Venus would live on for several more years, riding the waves of romance, mystery, and horror trends, and Namora's daughter, Namorita, would find success in the 1970s and beyond, the Blonde Phantom joined Sun Girl, Golden Girl, and Miss Fury in obscurity. —DAR

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